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Amazon Prime Is a Blessing and a Curse For Remote Towns (vice.com) 314

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: If access to Prime is reduced, or in some cases, cut off, it can leave many remote towns in the lurch. One dozen five-gallon barrels of hydraulic oil. A 2x4x8 of lumber. A pallet's worth of 10-ply, heavy-duty truck tires. These are just a few of the heavy, cumbersome orders one Redditor on the Alaska subreddit claimed to have ordered from Amazon Prime, with free shipping, before users started to notice difficulty finding eligible products. For many remote and rural communities in the U.S. and Canada, the arrival of Amazon Prime, with its low prices and free, expedient shipping was a boon. Hard-to-get or expensive products were now accessible, and reasonably priced to boot. For the cost of a membership (which now runs $99 per year), residents were able to get deals on everything from food to diapers to truck tires. But sometimes when something seems too good to be true, it is. Prime has proven to be a bit of a double-edged sword for many of these communities. Residents become dependent on Prime as local retailers struggle to compete. If access to Prime is reduced, or in some cases, cut off, it can leave many remote towns in the lurch.
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Amazon Prime Is a Blessing and a Curse For Remote Towns

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  • But what if... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aicrules ( 819392 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:05AM (#54807685)
    So what happens to many remote towns if access to Prime is reduced, or in some cases, cut off?
    • Try the whole rest of the world. It's not like Africa's population is dwindling.
      • I don't understand your response...though my post was merely poking fun a summary that starts and finishes with the same exact sentence, I can't connect that logically with what you responded with.
    • Re:But what if... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:17AM (#54807741)

      Maybe they will abandon their unviable communities out in the middle of nowhere.

      • They can move to the shithole cities like the other bitter people have.

        • Maybe there's some places to live that are not quite as dense as an urban city but not quite as remote as a village in northern Canada or Alaska that's only accessible by plane part of the year?

          Actually, not maybe, I know and have visited many of these places. You can buy acres of land, never see your neighbors (if you don't want to) and quite literally do whatever you want. And you can be 2-3 hour drive from a small-to-mid-size city with all the stores, hospitals and other amenities, and probably about 20

          • by Tool Man ( 9826 )

            I was going to say, there's a great middle ground if you choose to go a little less urban. In my case, our island is like a small town of ~3000, and the small city of ~35000 is a 10 minute ferry ride away. I've got what I usually *need* right here, and it's not really inconvenient to get to most big box stores and the like on the other side.

            Larger places are slightly farther away, so I can still go to Costco. In many cases, I make a point of using my local merchants, so that I continue to have their service

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        Maybe they will abandon their unviable communities out in the middle of nowhere.

        Want to define "unviable" and all that? Really there are very few unviable communities even here in Canada, I can think of a few like Resolute, NVT. A few on the lakes of Hudson's Bay where the only way in or out is by rail link(no flying). But even then those unviable communities have a purpose, like research, early warning in case of military attack and so on. I have a funny feeling that your version it would mean a city with 40k people that's an hour away from another city. Then again, let's also lo

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No economy, dependent on subsidies from the city-dwelling people who are actually doing work. Maybe in Canada there are remote communities that have a purpose, but in the USA we're mostly talking about towns that were built around things like mines that no longer exist or lumber jobs that have been automated away.

          • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

            Except that's not what happening now is it. Hell let's look at this claim of "city-dwelling people" who are actually doing work, Toronto is a stinking shithole of a city that's literally bankrupted the province because governments will pander to large cities while ignoring the small towns that still provide them with their day-to-day necessities like milk, bread, eggs, and toilet paper.

            In the USA, those towns that were built around things will live or fail on their own. But if you think automation has mad

          • The real question is why aren't newer economic forces moving to these areas?
            A closed down factory, can be refurbished to a new factory, turned into offices, a warehouses, data center...

            • The real question is why aren't newer economic forces moving to these areas?
              A closed down factory, can be refurbished to a new factory, turned into offices, a warehouses, data center...

              Probably a bunch of reasons:

              - Workers don't want to move there. A whole slew of companies are not going to move into this place all at once, it'll only start with one. Workers don't want to move to a "company town" in this age; getting laid off means you're in real trouble because you can't get a job anywhere else in that a

        • by Luthair ( 847766 )

          Exactly what early warning do you think they'd provide that an outpost or automated system doesn't do better? Some guy out for a morning constitutional isn't going to spot an invasion before radar or satellites.

          Communities aren't viable if there isn't an employer willing to pay a higher salary to cover the increased cost of necessities. Instead, the rest of the Canadian population is subsidizing the communities through both both the Canadian government and through their own purchases at Amazon.

          • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

            Exactly what early warning do you think they'd provide that an outpost or automated system doesn't do better? Some guy out for a morning constitutional isn't going to spot an invasion before radar or satellites.

            You mean those automated systems which will happily decide that yes, that friendly plane is actually a strategic bomber and start screaming the ruskies are invading type of system?

            Communities aren't viable if there isn't an employer willing to pay a higher salary to cover the increased cost of necessities. Instead, the rest of the Canadian population is subsidizing the communities through both both the Canadian government and through their own purchases at Amazon.

            Except that's not happening. Hell the article itself starts off that prime was a boon, then it was cut off. So the person they're talking about suddenly has to start paying the actual price for the goods in question. The problem is that those jobs *do* cover it, prime created an artificially low price that local companies could

          • The maintenance and repair team for the automated system just might work better actually, you know, near that system.

            There will be no power grid, so a team to keep power running needs to be there.

        • Want to define "unviable" and all that?

          Sure. "Unviable" is when the costs of maintaining a community can't be covered by the revenue it generates.

          A few on the lakes of Hudson's Bay where the only way in or out is by rail link(no flying). But even then those unviable communities have a purpose, like research, early warning in case of military attack and so on

          "Hard to get to" doesn't necessarily equal "unviable". If a community has a purpose, is someone willing to cover the costs to pursue that purpose? I

        • But even then those unviable communities have a purpose, like research, early warning in case of military attack and so on.

          Are you fucking nuts? "Early warning"? You don't need a town of 500 yahoos to do that; haven't you heard of satellite surveillance? And who the fuck is going to attack northern Canada? Paranoid much?

          Having lived in small towns and actual big cities(like Toronto). I'll take the small town any day of the week.

          That's fine if the place is economically viable, and you can afford to live

      • What do you mean, "will"? That's basically what they ARE doing.

      • I don't get this hate towards people who live in Rural Areas?
        Living in Cities or the Burbs have problems of their own, High Crime, Noise, Zoning regulations, Housing prices, Gentrification, Pollution...
        If you were to force them to move to the cities, you are bringing on a world of pain.
        1. They will not give up their Land without a fight.
        2. They will be miserable living in the city,
        3. They will influence the government with their own political beliefs.

        The solution is to make sure that these rural areas are p

        • How are they a "benefit to society" if you're subsidizing them? If they're truly producing enough economic activity to make themselves viable (oil fields, for example), then they don't need subsidies: they're making enough money to make up for the inefficiencies caused by their remoteness.

          As for giving up their land without a fight, why would you need to do that? Just stop giving them money for nothing. Either they'll starve to death or they'll move. If they really want to stay out there and try to surv

    • They're left in the lurch, of course!

    • Well these remote towns are majority republican. They are well aware that Corporate Profits come before their own interests. If they can't get it on Amazon Prime, they will either need to pay more, or find alternated sources.

      Amazon is one of the few .COM companies to survive the Tech Bubble of 2003. Their main advantage compared to the others is they had a business model that focused on bringing in money. Quite simply if they find people abusing the features of Prime, and they find it unprofitable. The

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:09AM (#54807701)
    Anyone else remember the song about the "Wells Fargo Wagon" from 76 Trombones? That was the end result of a remote order business hooked up to a rail-backed transportation system.

    See also "Sears Catalog Home":
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Catalog_Home
  • An Alaskan man many years ago had concrete blocks shipped individually via USPS because it was cheaper than shipping a pallet via freight. USPS put an end to that practice as they could only fit so many concrete blocks into a mail bag.
  • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:28AM (#54807811)
    The sorts of things they citing here are prohibitively expensive on Amazon... a 2x4x8 of poplar (didn't poke around long enough to see SPF pine) is around $70 for which I would expect the whole flitched tree. For smaller things that hardware stores can usually wring you for I can see why Amazon is competitive but the examples here seem odd. I've not found anything bigger/heavier than a large sack of dog food that was price competitive.
    • Price competitive for *where*. The location is a big part of this story. If you're in an isolated community there a good chance a quick hop down to the local lumber yard isn't on the cards.

  • Dumping (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:33AM (#54807849)

    This is an old trick: sell goods/services below their cost until you drive out competition. You have to swallow some massive losses at first, but in the end you'll secure yourself a monopoly.

    • If that competition was viable before, what stops it from coming back?

    • I believe you are attributing brilliance where there was ignorance. It seems as though no one at Amazon sat down to compute the costs that Prime memberships would incur if people in remote communities ordered bulky items but not the less bulky items too.

      They can take some losses on bulky items, like truck tires, so long as the people in these communities order an amount of less bulky items, like diapers, in ratios equivalent to what less remote communities would.

      If you are sending a delivery to some distan

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:38AM (#54807893)

    Years ago, not long after becoming a Prime member, I was renting a cottage in a very remote location in the middle of a national forest for a couple weeks. This location was without mail delivery. Population density of the county is maybe two dozen per square mile, so not the sparsest but fairly low density.

    I ran an experiment, set that as my main address in Prime, and ordered something (I don't even remember what.) Imagine my surprise two days later when I heard the delivery truck hustling down the country road 4 miles away!

    If only that place had consistent, reliable internet service (Verizon worked if you held your phone just right in certain places and the cottage was equipped with Wild Blue? satellite internet) I could see setting up shop semi-permanently, provided I could find a job that allowed me to work remotely.

    But I was always concerned about dependency on delivery service, it seemed like a fluke that it worked, there's no way that was economically viable for Amazon.

  • Sorry but I don't see the double-edge sword in eliminating inefficient purveyors of goods and services. It saves a lot more people time and money than it does people who have their jobs eliminated.
    • According to TFA, problem is that once inefficient purveyors (ie local retailers) are driven out by Amazon, locals are fucked over when Amazon decides it isn't worth their dime shipping to the sticks anymore.

      Once available locally at price X -->
      Next available via Prime for X - Y -->
      Now available nowhere

      It's undercutting the competition in order to let the locals starve... perhaps not Amazon's original intent, but a potential dark outcome for those who live in remote parts.

      • Nothing prevents someone from re-opening a business in the sticks after Amazon decides to stop shipping to it. A market is a fluid thing.
    • by Chryana ( 708485 )

      1. The shipping is being done at a loss. The local provider is not being inefficient; the seller is basically subsidized by Amazon. This subsidy can be pulled at any time, once Amazon decides to tighten the rules on renewal.
      2. We're talking about small communities where there may not be that many jobs available. The loss of three of four jobs out of a labor pool of 20-30 people is a major blow. Furthermore, the money that kept in the local shops is now being sent out of the community, leaving even less mone

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        That isn't the reality most places though. You have to be much much more remote to be that 'closed' of a system. There are some places like that, probably in Alaska and some others out west on the Continental US.

        My experience with rural life is Appalachia. Many years ago we still had general stores I am talking the late 90's here. Actually we still do but they are shells of their former selves where they do exist. You could ask the proprietor to order just about anything you need and they had a supplie

      • Those are excellent points, thanks.
  • A Utah frontier town was reputed to have ordered its new courthouse to be mailed in brick by brick from a distant city, because artificially low postal rates made that cheaper than shipping in bricks on railroad cars.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @10:11AM (#54808131) Homepage Journal

    Yes, it is expensive to transport goods to remote areas. However, and I'm sure you've seen this too, price gouging most definitely occurs, far beyond the additional expense due to transportation. Little shops in the middle of nowhere have a monopoly, and it is often abused as goods can be double the price and more compared to what you'd pay in a regular supermarket or store like Walmart. I've also literally seen signs in tiny country stores that said the likes of "If you don't start buying your milk here then we will have to stop carrying it and it won't be available locally in case you need it."

    I'm just throwing this out there off the top of my head, but one thing that might work is for Amazon to partner with small rural stores. If the customer picked up their order at the store then there could be a slight discount, because Amazon would save on that final mile of delivery which is the most expensive. Amazon could then evaluate what that community is purchasing most often and then allow the store owner to keep an inventory on hand of those items. The local merchant would then get some percentage of the sale of those items. Of course that also brings customers into their store, increasing the likelihood of purchasing other items as well.

    However, I doubt the Ruth-Anne type would go for having a big corporation like Amazon working their tentacles into their business. Bonus points if you know who I'm talking about. :)

    • one thing that might work is for Amazon to partner with small rural stores. If the customer picked up their order at the store then there could be a slight discount, because Amazon would save on that final mile of delivery which is the most expensive.

      Isn't that happening already? In large parts of the world (including super densely populated Hong Kong) it is already very normal to have packages delivered via the local 7-11 or OK shop, or have it placed in a locker. That while e-commerce in this highly connected city is still in its infancy, most people prefer to buy in shops: not (much) more expensive, no waiting for your item, can see before you buy, less risk.

      I often order stuff online, and like this option. Not only saves it money on delivery, it als

  • Queue the slew of ebil (corp) doing ebil hurtful things pandering for the destruction of the ebil (corp).

    First it was uber, now it's Amazon?

    Grab your torches and pitch-forks and rall... Uhg to hell with it. Tired of railing at whatever (corp) is deemed ebil of the week.

  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @03:56PM (#54810983)

    Amazon is a boon for rural folk. There are NO stores in our town.

    Drive further to the next towns beyond that and there is only an expensive gas station with a very limited and high priced selection chips, soda, milk, candy, ice cream, etc.

    If you drive for about 60 minutes round trip there is a town with limited selection of goods in stores, a hardware store, a lumber yard, a few restaurants and grocery store.

    My purchases on Amazon are not taking dollars away from local stores, not even stores within an hour of me. Rather I'm buying things I simply can _NOT_ buy here. I would have to drive another hour to get even a quarter of the things I get on Amazon and even then there are many things I simply could not get.

    This is very common in rural areas. Urbanites, who make up most of Slashdotters, don't understand this so they are not likely to appreciate just how wonderful Amazon is for rural folk.

    The other issue on this topic is that many people seem to think that Amazon is some monolithic seller. Amazon is not. Amazon is more like a mall filled with many small and larger sellers. Amazon helps some of those sellers with fulfillment but most of all Amazon offers search features, product description and reviews. All of these are valuable and NOT available through local or even regional stores in the brick-and-mortor world.

    • Traveling Laos and to a lesser degree rural Thailand many years ago, there was a Lordy that came through town once a week as a pop-up store. You could order things in advance, or buy what they had on the truck.

      It is a simple system, and works for many small communities that are at least accessible by road. Sure, it is more expensive to operate, but it scales to demand.

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